Do you know what to do if your dog bites?
If your dog is accused of biting another dog or person, you might be facing Unlawful Ownership of a Dangerous Dog charges. Under this state statute, the dog is deemed “dangerous” upon the single occurrence of the event leading to the charges themselves. It’s confusing, but animal law is often unusual.
Depending on the location of where the incident occurred, you could be facing similar charges, but with a different title, such as: “potentially dangerous animal”, “vicious animal”, or “aggressive animal” (depending on your local city’s phrasing (Aurora, Denver, Commerce City, Englewood, Lakewood, etc.).
Regardless of the charges, if your dog is accused of biting another person or animal, here are a few things to do and not do…
- DO separate the dogs as quickly as possible. Carrying a squirting water bottle is a great way to separate fighting dogs. DO NOT stick your hands in the middle of the dog fight – even if you think you are reaching for a collar, the likelihood of getting bit is very high;
- DO call animal control; usually the person who calls animal control first is the person who does not get charged for the dog fight;
- DO take pictures of your dog and the other dog immediately after the incident – if possible. If the other person is worked up and yelling and screaming, pictures might not be possible and might escalate the incident;
- DO stay calm! People who get into fights after their dogs get into altercations can end up making responding law enforcement even angrier, and they will most definitely take it out on the person they issue the citation to (which is usually the person who makes the animal control officer mad);
- DO cooperate with animal control or the police (the type of law enforcement that shows up depends on where you live).
DO talk to an attorney; DO hire an experienced trainer or behaviorist to evaluate your dog. My office works with a many qualified people to help you get honest, well-founded, and educated advice and training for your dog.
- DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT TO LAW ENFORCEMENT! If you are the one accused of owning the dog that “started it,” do not give a statement. They are not interested in your side of the story. If you did not call animal control and they are asking you questions, it is because they have already decided your dog started the fight. So, DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT! It is your 5TH AMENDMENT RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT!
- DO NOT offer to pay any vet bills; this can be handled, later, when everyone is calm;
- DO NOT make any comments about your dog to the other person (or the animal control officer). Things NOT to say include, “Spot’s never done this before!” and especially, “well, Spot doesn’t really get along with other dogs.” The law enforcement officer will write this down and you’ll be stuck with that statement for the duration of the case and it will be used against you in court;
- DO NOT PLEAD GUILTY WITHOUT GETTING DISCOVERY AND CONSULTING WITH AN ATTORNEY! So many people come to me after they’ve already pled guilty and there is nothing I, or any other attorney, can do at that point. You are stuck with the sentence and all the consequences of that sentence once you plead guilty.
DO NOT think you can handle this yourself. Your dog’s life may be at stake! And DO watch out for city statues that allow the city to ask for forfeiture of your dog prior to the criminal case moving forward. These cities include: Boulder, Aurora, Lakewood, Castle Rock, and others.
DO NOT expect to just “pay a fine” and move on. Unlawful Ownership of a Dangerous Dog is a Third Degree Misdemeanor. It carries jail time as a possible penalty. The consequences of a dog bite are numerous and expensive: yearly permitting ($300 fee), 9-foot fence (3 feet of which are underground), muzzling, always on leash, “beware of dog” signs on your house, plus much more.
DO NOT think the prosecutor is there to help you or give you legal advice. They do not care about you or your dog. They just want to get a guilty plea and close the case.
DO NOT think you can just “plea this down”. Aggressive/Dangerous dog charges are very rarely ever pled down because it imposes liability on the city or state to let dogs accused of being dangerous “off the hook.” Even non-serious cases frequently go to trial.
Be smart. Be safe. You can always “get another dog.” But your dog only has you. Protect him/her. Set him/her up for success. You are the human. You are the pack leader. Act like it and take the lead whenever you are outside with your dog.
If you find yourself in a difficult situation with your dog, whether it is a dog bite, or barking dog complaints, or anything else, call Kristina Bergsten at The Animal Law Firm at 303-623-4000, or, send us a message through our website www.theanimallawfirm.com.